11/8/98, P23C

“I Sold My Soul to the Company Store...”
Luke 20: 27-38

s a young man my maternal grandfather, Papa Sides, briefly managed a coal mining company store at the Flat Top mine just north of Birmingham. I have a picture of him standing on the porch of the store dressed in a three piece suit, high collar shirt and fancy tie, surrounded by the poorest looking bunch of miners you can imagine. They disdained him much like the folks of Palestine hated tax collectors of the occupying Roman Empire. Remember Zacchaeus, of a couple Sundays ago, who had sold out his Hebrew heritage to work for the enemy? My grandfather, in later life, recalled how he felt he had sold his soul to that company store. Not only were the poor miners, who were paid in script and forced to pay inflated company prices, owned by the distant corporation, so was my grandpaw locked into that same depression era system.

In the 1960’s Tennessee Ernie Ford recorded a country ballad, “Sixteen Tons,” that stayed number one on the pop and country charts for months. It captured the almost forgotten plight of the company owned miner: “You haul sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt. Saint Peter don’t you call me for I can’t go, I owe my soul to the company store.”

My mother’s sister married one of those Flat Top miners and lived in an unpainted house on one of those unpaved streets for years. But as the depression ended, and as the miners’ conditions improved, Aunt Pauline and Uncle Winfred were the first to paint their house and fix up their yard. It was like a rose amid thorns; but gradually other roses bloomed and the entire village began to look like an almost normal place to live. Winfred and Polly were able to put both daughters through college. Rachael was elected the first woman treasurer of the Alabama Baptist Convention, and Jean runs a department at Birmingham’s University Hospital. Literally out of the coal dust came a wonderful American success story.

The question we naturally ask is, “What made the difference and from where did the vision come?” You think that I am going to say that Winfred’s and Polly’s dream for a better life came from the Lord, and you are right. You see, a company can own your life, but not your soul.

In today’s text we hear Jesus contrast two types of people, “Those who belong to this age,” and the, “Children of God... children of the resurrection.” (v. 34 & 36, NRSV). Followers of Christ are not sold out to mammon, or worldly systems. Our hearts belong to Jesus and we are co-heirs with Him in the Kingdom of God. Even though we might temporarily live in a shanty, we are spiritual royalty as children of the King of Glory.

Two farmers were asked what they were accomplishing in their work. The first responded that he was digging ‘taters, and the second looked up toward heaven and said, “I am helping to feed a starving world!”

I feel that this is the genius of Christian Civilization. We have been motivated to serve others, and to work hard in this present world as we have looked toward greater goals; and beyond that we have assurance of eternal life. For all of this we are grateful.

Sociologists who survey attitudes consistently report that the number one reason that church members say they give through their church is out of gratitude to God for their many blessings. Is not that the underlying motivating force behind our giving? God has blessed us more than we deserve and we want to pass it on.

Today, millions around the world face starvation and disease and we take solace in the fact that our United Methodist Committee on Relief is out there using the resources of our denomination to assist. Our representatives are in Honduras where Hurricane Mitch has taken over ten thousand lives. Our giving to UMCOR is a product of our expressed Thanksgiving.

On December 13, fifteen new foreign missionaries of our General Board of Global Ministries will be commissioned at the Altar of our church to go forth and proclaim the gospel overseas. They will carry, by word and witness, the good news that through Jesus Christ everyone everywhere can receive salvation and a new vision for life at its highest and best: Not only an opportunity, but a spiritual courage to take up one’s cross and follow Him.

Here in the heart of this great city we have the strategic opportunity to be a lighthouse for Christ. Our outreach in social service and witness is making a significant difference in downtown, and in this metropolitan area. Through your church you are helping to salvage broken lives and to proclaim Good News to thousands each week.

It is only natural that the theme for this year’s Annual Pledge Campaign revolves around the divine experience of “Thanksgiving.” You will receive a letter this week containing a Pledge Card on which we ask you to make an estimate of your financial commitment to your church. During the next two Sunday mornings you will be given the opportunity to bring your cards to the Altar for dedication. This somewhat low key process is the way that our program and mission is financed. This campaign allows you to take ownership of all that we are, and all that is done in Jesus’ name through Atlanta’s oldest church.

As an expression of where our loyalty and priorities lie, let us each take seriously Christ’s challenge to live like “Children of God... and resurrection.” Our hearts belong to Him. Now is our annual opportunity to express your gratitude to Him for blessings. The challenge is for each of us to pray this week about our response, and to bring that response back with us next Sunday.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

11/8/98, P23C